Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

6 Countries That Can Teach Us Something About Improving Life in the U.S.

Created: 11 September, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
4 min read

Regardless of how you feel about the current trajectory of our country, or the notion of “American Exceptionalism,” there’s no denying that the U.S. is still one of the greatest places on Earth to live. Americans have a great deal to be thankful for. With that said, I think we can all agree there’s room for improvement.

But where should we look for answers to improve as a country? How can we increase human flourishing in this great land of ours?

As we careen toward another election featuring a flotilla of uninspiring candidates, I lament the dearth of American politicians who are willing to present the kinds of audacious, visionary policies that could potentially improve our state of affairs. Unfortunately, we are, for the most part, stuck with a gaggle of gutless, bland wimps or partisan proxies who are beholden to money, power, and the status quo.

I have some big ideas about how we can potentially improve as a nation, though it might rub against our proud American ethos of self-sufficiency a little bit. I think we would be wise to look beyond our borders for advice and guidance.

Even a humble bottle of Worcestershire sauce “uses the finest ingredients sourced from around the world.” Shouldn’t our governance merit at least a similar measure of the thoughtful integration and attention to detail that we apply to our ancillary condiments? I say we scour the globe to source the world’s finest cultural ingredients to help us keep our edge and stay on top.

Be they policies, traditions, philosophies; let’s borrow whatever it is that seems to be working elsewhere and see if we can make it work for us as well.

Let’s call it the International Idea Buffet Initiative. Lord knows we love our buffets.

Here are a few ideas for 2016 candidates to consider.

Bhutan – Gross National Happiness

Some people find Bhutan’s policy of seeking “Gross National Happiness” a silly gimmick or a feckless PR move. I think it’s quite admirable to see a government making their people’s happiness a matter of national concern; abstract as that might be.

As for applying this idea to the U.S., it’d be interesting to see some sort of “Department of Happiness” (D’OH) in each state, with a goal of helping people pursue happiness. I’m not a details guy, but I’m picturing local D’OH branches as zany Dr. Seuss buildings with all sorts of fun stuff inside: T-shirt cannons, bumper car rentals, free kung fu lessons, etc.

Like I said I’m not a details guy, I’ll let the D’OH do their job.

Malawi – Warmth

People are so friendly and hospitable in Malawi that the country has become known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” Having gone to school in the American South, I’m used to a certain measure of hospitality, but the treatment I received on a visit to Malawi was truly exemplary and memorable. I always encourage people to visit the country, despite how many billions of kwacha that flight costs. (It’s 482.56 Malawian kwacha to every 1 U.S. dollar right now.)

My point here is that being genuinely welcoming can facilitate tourism. Maybe the U.S. could set up Malawian-led Hospitality Clinics to remind us of how to treat one another?

Sweden – Paternity leave

New parents in Sweden get 480 days of leave. 480! Dads have two months allocated specifically for them. I took one week off after the births of both my children.

It is shameful how low the United States of America ranks in work-life balance.

Poland – Education

Much has been made about Finland’s remarkable education story, but how about Poland? Surely we can glean something from their meteoric rise in education standards? Since enacting reforms in 1999, they’ve zoomed up the list of countries excelling at educating their children.

Rwanda – Governance Scorecard

Rwanda has made remarkable strides toward development since the dark days of the 1994 genocide. Some of the progress is certainly due to the implementation of a stringent Governance Scorecard that measures the effectiveness of politicians. If they fail to achieve certain results or accomplish stated goals, guess what? They’re out of a job.

Imagine that kind of results-based, evidence-driven accountability for our political class!

Slovenia – Communal Hunting

Personally, I’m not much for hunting of any kind. But when I read about things like the beloved tradition of hunting dormice in Slovenia, I can see the appeal. We lead such insular lives in this country, and yet we all long for community.

Other than mosquitoes, I can’t think of an animal I loathe enough to call for a community-wide hunt for, but maybe we could organize community-based rat chasings or something like that? The point being, we could use more communal events and teamwork-oriented traditions that force us to work together.


Of course, these are just a few ideas from around the world that may or may not be of use to us. We won’t know until we try.

The question is: Are there any politicians out there who are selfless or bold enough to propose and pursue such outside-the-box legislation?

Photo Credit: Thorsten Schmitt / shutterstock.com